In Karnes County, Texas, a tanker truck carrying at least 800 gallons of toxic chemicals spilled its contents over eight miles of roadway. The county Sheriff’s Department has been investigating the case since last March.
Karnes County is located in one of the most active drilling areas in the United States, the Eagle Ford Shale region of South Texas. Almost 9,000 wells have been sunk in this area alone, with another 5,500 already approved for action.
To get to the rich oil and gas deposits in the shale, water is pumped deep into the ground in a process known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that approximately 4.9 million gallons of water can be pumped into a single Eagle Ford well. It is the leftover fluid from this process that was found all over Farm-to-Market Road 81.
Fracking produces a toxic slurry of oil, metal shavings, various chemicals and radioactive materials that must be disposed of in designated areas. According to Sharon Wilson, an organizer with the Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project, Texas state laws are weak on regulating disposal. “There is so much of this that they don’t know what to do with it,” she says. “So it’s not surprising that there are cases where it’s just dumped anywhere.”
Surprise or no, the slurry dumped on the road was illegal, and set in motion an investigation by the Sheriff’s Department, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the State Railroad Commission. As described in the Karnes County Sheriff’s Report, investigators traced the source of the spill to a tanker truck from On Point Services, one of two trucking companies hauling fracking fluid between drilling sites and a cleaning facility. A tanker leaving one site left with 20-30 barrels of fluid (between 840 and 1,260 gallons) and arrived at the facility without a single gallon.
Winfred Stanfield, owner of On Point Services, denied responsibility for the spill. When contacted by InsideClimate News, he alleged that five other companies were “implicated” in the spill without giving further evidence. He ended by saying, “I don’t want to touch this story at all.”
This illegal dumping follows a similar incident in Wilson County, located just north of Karnes. On January 14, 2014, Amber Lyssy saw a tanker truck stopped on a dirt road near her home in Poth. Lyssy reported that the tanker was spilling a brown fluid with “a strong diesel odor.” Returning to the site with her camera, Lyssy gathered a sample of the fluid. The video can be seen below:
Lyssy reported the spill to local authorities but they took no action. “It was just pooh-poohed away,” she said in an interview.